Well, so am I! Though I have been a little lax (*COUGHCOUGH*) on the updating front. And clearly I shouldn’t go away for so long – the place falls apart when I’m not around! I log in and the images are all broken, the plug-ins are out of date… What the heck?! It’s 2013! Shouldn’t my website be updating itself by now? And WHERE IS MY FLYING CAR?!
Ahh well, guess I’ll just have to do it myself.
So what have YOU been up to??
There’s a meme going around right now (I got it most recently from George Takei, but there’s another iteration of it here.) that syncs very nicely with thoughts I’ve been having about the kinds of things I read and that I let my kids read.
Very recently I saw a status update from a 10-year-old girl (How a 10-year-old got onto Facebook, let alone onto my friendslist, we can discuss later. Suffice it to say I have no say in the one and have no interest in injuring the child by denying the other.) that said, to wit: Whaaaa – Just finished Breaking Dawn and have nothing to REEEEEEeeeeeaaaaaaad!
Perhaps you have surmised that I did not, precisely, approve. You would be quite right. But, being a generally reasonable man, and at least modestly self-aware, I checked with another friend of mine who has read and does enjoy the Twilight books to see if my apoplexy was even by the thinnest margin justified.
My friend very diplomatically advised me to keep my mouth shut as this child’s reading habits were none of my business. Agreed. But this friend also posed me a question: Why is it any different for you to let your children read Harry Potter than for this other child’s parent to let her read Twilight?
Well, let me tell you.
It’s true that the Harry Potter books handle some rough stuff – especially in the later books. Violence, abandonment, war, terrorism, the failures and deadly flaws of adults… we could go on. Harry’s life is horrible and the horror of it spreads to his friends, classmates, and even his enemies. Harry has moments of despair, he has flaws, doubts. He makes mistakes. He wins and loses. But through it all he responds with admirable character. Not perfect, but admirable. The same goes for his friends. Ron and Hermione each rise to heroic heights, standing by their friend through terror and fear and deadly danger.
When my children read these books — and more importantly, relate to these characters — they are relating to people exhibiting laudable character. They are aspiring to strength and self-reliance, intelligence and wit, loyalty and integrity. When they pretend they are Harry, Ron or Hermione, they are modeling positive qualities in themselves.
The same, I’m afraid, cannot be said of the characters in Twilight.
Bella, in the very first pages of the first book, has nothing but contempt for people who show her genuine care, affection and acceptance. She becomes infatuated with the first person who wants nothing to do with her: Edward. Edward briefly exhibits some small measure of noble self-sacrifice, removing himself from the picture because of the very real threat of his losing control and killing Bella, but then wipes it all away again when he returns because he ‘got tired of staying away’.
It goes downhill hill from there – stalking, obsession, suicide used as manipulation, must I go on?
It comes down to this: When a child — 8, 10, 12 years old — reads this and relates to the characters; when he or she begins to cast themselves in the roles of the protagonists, what sort of character are they modeling in themselves?
For me, I’ll take Hermione or Leia over Bella any day, and if no vampire ever shows his sparkly ass in my house, I’ll be a happy man.
Good question! Wish I knew the answer myself, but about the best I can do is: Away?
I suppose it’s fair to say I’ve been distracted. Maybe a little depressed. Certainly not very motivated toward writing, and even less so toward writing here.
If I were feeling pompous, I might say I’ve been busy reinventing myself. I think it would be more accurate to say that I’ve been remodeling myself. Inside, outside… I’ve done some reassessing of myself and my relationships. Moved the family home (again – oh, the joys of renting), made the trip back to the old homesteads. Renewed some treasured bonds, did some assessing of a new, and fractured landscape. (I suspect there will be a post or two about that at some point in the future.)
Through it all I’ve been thinking about this page and wondering what I can do to make it more vital, viable, and interesting – to me and to you.
See, I started the blog as a running joke. Maybe you knew that, or gathered it. I certainly hope so, anyway. But jokes get old — even the good ones! — and I don’t know that I can be certain this was a very good joke in the first place.
I’ve been trying to come up with a way to make a break from the old format and find a new one that’s appealing — again, to me and to you. Something a little more full-spectrum. Something that lets me speak to you as myself rather than through the character I started with. (Of COURSE you realized I wasn’t writing as ME.)
I never did find a way to transition smoothly. To ease you into thinking of me differently. (This assumes you think of me at all, which may, in fact, be rather a stretch.) And again, if I’m being honest, trying to find that transition was just one more way to avoid writing. Ironic, isn’t it? So I just decided to go ahead and do it; make the change; drop the persona and write as me.
And here we are. You. Me. My words and, hopefully, yours.
So: Hi! I’m Brett. And I’m a writer.
Does this mean I won’t be making anymore ‘Cat Vacuuming’ posts? Hardly. I’ve still got those in me. But it does mean that they won’t be all I write. I’ve got other things to say. More jokes to tell, thoughts to share, rants to burn. Here in the States the Presidential election is ramping up, and for me that’s always rife with humor (and anger and madness). I’ve been watching new things, and I have a few things to say about them. I’ve read a few things too, and there’s certainly something to be said about that. I’ll do my best to make them entertaining, and if I manage to make you laugh, I’ll be a happy man.
Thanks for reading. And just to make the break complete:
For Gandhi’s sake – GO WRITE
…and thus, not really as CONNECTED as I usually am. So instead of a post, you get a link to NPR’s Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books.
What’s not on the list that you think ought to be?
I, for one, think that the Wizard of Earthsea books are conspicuously absent. Conspiracy? Could be…
My wife’s birthday is coming up. And, my New-Every-2 discount recently matured affording me a sizable discount on a new cell phone, provided I sign over my soul for another 2 year stint on the Verizon wagon.
Now we have an iPhone in the house.
It arrived by FedEx Thursday afternoon. I wrapped it and handed it over that night, and let me tell you – I know how Samwise felt giving the Ring back to Frodo that time down in Mordor.
I say that, but the thing itself is like something straight out of Neuromancer. Sleek, seemless, with those oblong steel studs on the edges. It doesn’t strike me as something that was built so much as sliced from a loaf of solid technology. The feel of it only reinforces that sense – solid and heavy. No cavities for batteries or SIMM cards concealed behind flimsy plastic plates. A glass and steel brick of pure tech.
I find that disconcerting, unpleasant, and dissatisfying. Aesthetically, it’s beautiful, but at gut level it makes me suspicious. I like being able to open things up and see what’s going on inside. I don’t buy Apple computers for precisely that reason. I can open my Dell and see the pieces. Just like I can open the hood on my truck and take a poke at the engine, or my washing machine, or my toaster. I don’t very often, but I like to have the option. I like to know that if the world ended tomorrow and my technology failed, I could open it up and have some chance (miniscule would be a generously optimistic appraisal) of finding a miraculous solution.
But Apple doesn’t give me that. Apple says I can’t even change a battery. It makes me feel like Apple doesn’t just want me to believe the iPhone is a beautiful piece of amazing technology. They want me to believe it’s actually MAGIC.
I really don’t like that.
But sweet Jesus, Mary and Joseph – I WANT ONE.
Pray for me, my pretties. Pray that I have the strength to resist its power.
Signing off from the Land of Wantin-ain’t-Gettin’,
Your Friendly Neighborhood Cat Vacuumer. And if you don’t pray for me, then at the very least…
Jen Raffensperger wrote a very nice post over at Examorata. It’s about God. And a little about Tim Minchin. And some slightly inebriated woman. It’s always nice to see smart people thinking so’s we dimwits can see how it works.
Whew! It’s a bit dusty ’round here… my cat, however, is PRISTINE.
That is… ahh: Hi! How are you? Long time no see!
How’s the family…?
Yeah, I got nothing.
Okay, well maybe not nothing. Things have been hopping around the old homestead these past few months. Plus, it’s SUMMER (But don’t tell the PNW weather… I’m hoping it’ll skip the whole 80+ degree temperatures this year. I’m quite happy with the 65-70 degrees we’ve had to this point.) and I have always had a harder time writing when the hours of darkness get down below 8 per night.
So what’s been going on with me?
How about a list:
- BOOK! But you knew that. It’s not news, nor has it taken up a lot of time, but one thing they don’t talk a lot about when they tell you about writing books is that after you’ve gone to the trouble of writing a book, worked hard to tell your story and filled up a couple hundred pages to do so, you then need to do it again, only shorter. Let’s say… one to two pages. That should be easy, right? Just take your 400 page novel and… condense it. Like soup. But don’t worry – you don’t need to include EVERYTHING. Just the important stuff. Surely your book doesn’t have more than a page or two of important stuff in it, right?This is called writing a synopsis. Synopses suck. And no, mine’s still not done.
- BURGLARY! No, I haven’t taken up a life of crime. Rather than committing burglary, I was, in fact, burgled. Someone decided my home looked like the local Best Buy, walked in, picked over the selection of laptops and walked out with the newest available. And hey – no cashier, so it must be free, right? Bastards.Yes, we called the police. No, they didn’t catch who did it. Yes, people suck (almost as much as synopses!) No, I didn’t lose my work. Yes, the laptops were replaced. Thank you, State Farm, for the LOVELY new machine. Fuck you, burglar, for making it necessary.
- MOVING! We didn’t go far – just 10 miles south of where we were before, but that’s 10 minutes closer to the ferry and 10 minutes less my lovely wife has to drive to get to and from work. Baby steps indeed. Even so, packing up 4 people’s stuff (and we have considerably more than the standard stuff allotment in this family), moving it, cleaning up after it, and then unpacking it all again? Takes me some time. And beer.
- Did I mention it’s SUMMER? That’s significant for at least three reasons: A- Kids are home. B- Days are long C- Nights are short. See, Night time is the Write time. For me, anyway. Less night? Less write. But I have done a fair bit more reading than I did in the Spring. Perhaps I’ll let you in on what I’ve been reading in a future post. If you’re good…
So maybe you thought I’d kicked the habit? Given up writing and gone on to something more … respectable? Like maybe selling live bait? Or lint collection? Or the law? (Okay, I’m clearly kidding on that last one. The only profession less respectable than writer HAS to be lawyer.) Well – no such luck! As the summer winds down, the writing bug begins to stir and one day soon my cat will look up at me with those big, sad eyes and say ‘Feed me, you prick!’
No, wait… I was thinking of the children. The cat looks up and says… Well, the cat doesn’t say anything, you know. It’s a cat. It doesn’t have the power of speech. But if it did, it would probably say, ‘Why don’t you vacuum me anymore??’
Actually, that’s not true either. It hates the vacuum. It hates me, too, as far as that goes. And it never looks me in the eye, just points its ass in my direction and kicks up its heels like I’m a giant turd it doesn’t care enough to cover.
Well, hell – that metaphor’s gone all to crap now, hasn’t it?
The point is: Hello, stranger. Nice to see you comin’ round.
What’s been going on with you?
Your Friendly Neighborhood Writer
Writing a book is a terrible idea.
You think that, once it’s done, it’ll go away. That it won’t nag at your brain day and night the way it used to. Oh, sure – you’ll need to do a few edits, maybe rewrite a chapter or three. Nothing serious, of course. A little tinkering here and there. Change a name or two, make a man a woman, put in a donkey where the ground hog used to be. You know: the usual.
You’d think that, but you’d be wrong.
No, see – once you’re done writing the book, the obsession gets worse! I know, it’s crazy!! It sits there all day, nudging your brain to keep dibs on its brain space. You print it out – hell, you wrote the damn thing, but you can’t hold a .docx file in your hands, can you? You spent all that time typing, you ought to have something to show people when they ask what the hell you’ve been doing. Maybe you even bind it, make it look pretty.
And then when they hear you’ve written a book, people want to read it. And you want them to read it, because — let’s face it — if all you wanted was to think up a cool story, you wouldn’t have spent all that time and coffee on writing it down, would you?
So you post it online somewhere. You password protect it so you retain your first publication rights because, damn it, this thing had better earn a buck or two if only to pay for the booze it’s going to take for you to forget you ever did such a foolish thing. And of course then people read it! And when people read something they always have opinions. Of course, you being a writer, your ego is enormous and about as resilient as a balloon made of toilet paper. Reading feedback is like volunteering to play Voodoo Doll for an army of psychopathic six-year-olds armed with bamboo shoots carved to fit perfectly under fingernails.
The only thing worse than reading the opinions people form regarding your book is when they have no opinion at all. Oh… that is true torture. Time goes by and you stare at the screen, waiting. How long can it take to read a book, you think. It’s only 460 pages, after all. It’s been three hours! Is it a bad sign? It can’t possibly be good… You wear out three mice clicking refresh… refresh… refresh… Your spouse bludgeons the laptop to death with an empty vodka bottle because you’ve brought it to bed again and the screen keeps her awake. You swear off shirts because each New Mail chirp from your cell phone triggers a Pavlovian response and bare skin sheds drool better than any fabric.
This, dear readers, is what writing books leads to. Take heed! Now, if you don’t mind, I need to go check my inbox, respond to Uncle Morty’s blanket accusation of artistic whoredom and mop my nipples. In the mean time, take my advice:
(Want to read my book and tell me what you think? Email me and I’ll put you on the list. Come on, puncture my ego! You know you want to…)
Okay, so maybe it was three weeks. But hey – you know – you can’t rush genius! Or me, more to the point. At any rate – the three weeks have passed and the time for the announcement has come!!
(Are you ready?)
(You’re not ready – I can see you. You have no popcorn. And where’s the Drambuie? There must always be Drambuie to wash down the shock and awe that comes with Cat Vacuuming’s Momentous Revelations. It’s really the only thing that will do. Go get some. I’ll wait.)
You’re not going. Yeah, that’s right. I dropped the parentheses. You’re not taking this seriously, so I must resort to drastic measures. Like speaking directly to you without the buffering comfort of parentheses to cushion the blow of my mighty words. GET THE DRAMBUIE!
…where was I? OH RIGHT! Momentous Revelations! Are you ready? Seriously… OKAY, you’re ready. Here it is:
I AM A FRAUD
I know, right? Shocking! That’s GOT to be, like, the biggest surprise you’ve had in years! … What do you mean it’s not? No, no. This is TOTALLY more surprising than Uncle Marvin and the Shetland pony. All you ever had to do was look at him, for heaven’s sake. He pawed the ground any time he made change!
Okay… okay. So maybe it’s not that surprising, but do you know why I’m a fraud? What? No. No… No, that thing in Bangkok was totally not my fault. I mean, who brings a chicken to a bar mitzvah? Seriously. Branford was an honest mistake, too. Who knew hairpieces were flammable? I think maybe she got a bad batch of glue.
NO! You’re wrong! That’s not it. You want to know why I’m a fraud? I’ll tell you:
I wrote a book.
See? Huh? Shocking, isn’t it. ME. That bastion of non-writing, pillar of the cat vacuuming community. What can I say? When you’ve been on the wagon as long as I have you’re bound to fall eventually, and fall hard.
I am ashamed! ‘Lo, I hang my head and moan. I am a novelist! Save me from myself!
Worse yet: It’s a BIG one.
That’s where I’ve been these past few months! Wallowing in an orgy of words! Prostrate before the miserable altar of Plot and Poetic License! Forgive me! Take pity on me, dear readers! Lend me your words of support, your prayers… your cash wouldn’t hurt either, honestly. Save me from myself and my hidden shame!
Only you, dear readers. Only slavish devotion to the cause can rescue me from my ignominious and all-too-well-deserved fate! Only you, my friends, can prevent sequels. (I can feel it! It lurks and looms in the hidden recesses of my brain, longing only for my weakness and an open word processor! The horror! THE HORROR!)
I go now, but with a promise and a prayer. I promise I shall return! Only Cat Vacuuming can save me from the inhuman plight of the novelist. And I pray you will join me here, remind me yet again how terrible life as a writer must be, and how foolish those that embark upon it thinking it’s even remotely a good idea.
I know you will be by my side, dear readers. I have faith in you.
Good night! Good Hoovering! And whatever you do…
If ever there was ample evidence that writing a book is a TERRIBLE idea, Mary Robinette Kowal provides it in this understated post from her journal:
Debut Author Lessons: Surviving on Tour
Dehydration! Starvation! Sleep-deprivation! Exposure, social overload and a lack of suitable utensils!!
Ms. Kowal is a lovely woman, very kind and generous, but I think where she fails is in striking the proper tone of hysterical awe and apoplectic admonition. This is madness people! What sane and right-thinking individual would put themselves through such torture?!
(More on that later)
Anyway – we hope Ms. Kowal does well and that she can wisely abandon this career of horror and woe and never need face eating yogurt with a substandard spork again.
Until next time, my pretties. Be well. Stay warm. And whatever you do,
p.s. Stay tuned for a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT in the next week or two. Big, I say. As in Very Large. Gimongous. Hugemantic, even!